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September 15, 2016

Review – Here Comes the Sun

In Here Comes the Sun: A Novel, we read about people living in a rural and poverty-stricken area of Jamaica, trying in their own way to survive and improve their lot. The author, Nicole Dennis-Benn, struck a good balance in the dialogue, using patois enough that it is authentic but not enough to dissuade non-Jamaican readers.

The setting descriptions were memorable and there were many beautiful turns of phrases. I really enjoyed the prose. I was able to picture the market, the people there, and to feel the struggles, fears, pride, the works. Unfortunately, when I finished reading the book, it was that physical imagery that stayed with me…the characters? Not so much.

The main character Margot works at a hotel and has taken to prostitution to supplement her income. The fact that this choice seems to come easy to her makes sense when you learn of her history and the steps that her mother took to ‘cure’ her when she suspected that Margot’s romantic interests might be leaning more towards women than men. Margot is able to detach herself from her work as a prostitute in part because her leanings are still towards women, a fact that she must hide at all costs because of the vicious treatment that the villagers in the book mete out to homosexuals.

Margot convinces herself that she is working as a prostitute and all of the actions she takes subsequently because she is raising money for her sister’s education. Thandi is to become a doctor and to be the family’s ticket out of poverty. Like any teenager would, Thandi rebels against this pressure to be a doctor and pursues her own desires including drawing and lightening her skin to fit in better with the children at the school that she attends. Thandi’s future grows thin as an excuse for Margot’s choices and it is quite clear that her motives are much more self-centered.

By the end of the book Margot has brutally destroyed her sister, her lover, and everyone else that she purported to help. It is difficult to feel sorry for her as she finds herself having achieved her goals for financial security but emotionally worn and alone.

There are many famous examples of books and movies in which the central figure is a villain: Scrooge, Silence of the Lambs, the Godfather, are just a few. This approach is most successful when the villain finds redemption, has a redeeming quality (a sense of humour, admirable brilliance, or some hidden soft spot), or has a good explanation for being a villain. I feel that the author did not achieve any of these scenarios. Margot’s character had depth yet she did not feel rounded, as if we were exposed to only certain aspects of her character, none of which were endearing.

At the end of Here Comes the Sun: A Novel, an end which seemed a bit abrupt, I still had not felt a true connection to any of the central characters. As a Caribbean citizen I felt that the development of the characters as well as the portrayal of the society was a bit one-sided, exaggerated, and harsh.

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